- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

Maybe you’ve heard theone-liner about the man convicted of murdering his parents who, at sentencing, threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan. Not particularly funny, the joke rests on one of the several mechanisms which are seen as the basis for humor: self-contradiction. Far less amusing is the current combat between Israel and Hezbollah — the Shi’ite “militia” based in Lebanon and supported by Iran and Syria. And, predictably, Israel is cast as the villain by powers and entities willing to overlook the death of a few Jews in order to avoid loss of oil from Muslim states and unrest at home. I suggest that the loss of life in Lebanon — or anywhere — while regrettable, is an unavoidable consequence of war in general and the current crisis in particular.

It is no secret that the stated goal of Hezbollah, Hamas(Hezbollah’s stepchild in the occupied territories) and their sponsor Iran is to wipe Israel off the map, as Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has stated explicitly many times. Such statements would seem to undercut any suggestion that Israel lacks justification for its retaliation against Hezbollah for kidnappings and years of rocket attacks. So, those powers and entities turn in another direction to condemn Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force.

One obstacle to a fair appraisal of Israel’s actions is the shell game long played by Israel’s foes. Whoever is responsible for the abductions, the rocket fire or the suicide bombings of the recent past, the “victims of Israeli aggression” are not the ones responsible, say inhabitants of the territories and Lebanon. They complain of collective punishment, and Europe — not to mention Pat Buchanan — buys in. This argument is patently specious.

The Palestinian Authority, the democratically elected government of the territories, is dominated by Hamas, a terrorist group which advocates the destruction of Israel. So, the PA declares that it wasn’t they who carried out the carefully planned tunneling from Gaza into Israel to kill and kidnap Israelis; it was Hamas’ militant wing together with a few other groups. Likewise, Israel’s battle against Hezbollah in Lebanon is injuring civilians while Hezbollah is the real culprit. In the one instance, the attacks come from the ruling political party, in the other, from the paramilitary force which the weak government of Lebanon cannot rein in.

The notion that war is an appropriate response to attack is recognized in the U.N. Charter. And so Israel is now at war with Hamas and Hezbollah. Doing their utmost to minimize civilian casualties, Israeli forces must contend with an enemy that swims like a fish in the sea of the general population, as Mao Tse-tung observed. How can a charge of disproportionality be assessed?

I believe that the acceptable level of retaliation primarily hinges, not on the relative degree of damage, but on the intent of the parties involved. In our own criminal justice system, intent is often an important element. It is, of course, problematic to determine what is going on inside the mind of another, but our courts ask juries to do this constantly, based on the defendant’s actions and statements. We are obliged to do the same with the current Middle East conflict.

As noted, those responsible for the current attacks on Israel have the stated aim of its destruction. The prospect of a nuclear Iran brings back memories of certain other concessions made in furtherance of peace, such as the abandonment of democratic Czechoslovakia in response to Hitler’s demands prior to World War II. On the other hand, Israel has shown many times that it has no intention of destroying any of its Muslim neighbors. Its goal is simply to be allowed to live in peace. At present, death and martyrdom are major themes in radical Muslim rhetoric. How does a nation fight against an enemy so motivated which hides among a supposedly innocent civilian population?

The answer: by means of war. Casualties in this conflict are disheartening, but not extreme by the standard of any previous regional conflict — at least so far. They would be reduced to zero if Hezbollah and Hamas released their hostages (these are not convicted criminals, but ordinary soldiers) and ceased their actions directed at the destruction of Israel. But in the meantime, Lebanon and the territories are the sea in which murderous fish are welcome. Before they can legitimately seek world support, they must cleanse themselves of their own acceptance of, indeed support for, the killers among them. Their protestations are self-contradictory. They aren’t funny, either.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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